I’m kicking off this Friday with a confession: I peaked at running in elementary school. But, strangely, in the past four years I have found myself friends with inspiring, dedicated people who run for fun and take part in so many types of events that involve running. So, if anything, I’ve become an official running cheerleader. (Thanks, mostly, to RunDisney.)
Today I’m happy to champion running in the book committee, helping to spread the word about the return of YA Runs a 5K event, organized by the lovely Melody of Hollywood the Write Way (and fellow Jersey girl). After a successful go last year (they raised over $3K for First Book), this time YA Runs a 5K will be raising money for We Need Diverse Books. As co-hosts of the Dive into Diversity reading challenge this year, Magan and I are both psyched to hear about that.
Here’s what you need to know:
- This year’s YA Runs a 5K will be taking place on Saturday, June 6th in Philadelphia, PA.
- It’s SUPERHERO themed: the Super Run.
- Good news! There’s a chance you could win books or writing critiques (which also means, generous friends, donations are welcome).
- All the info you need is here: YA Runs a 5K.
- Psst. If you can’t run on June 6th, there’s a virtual run too!
In the meantime, check out some of my favorite YA books that involve characters & running:
How about some blogs by Disney runners?
Revved up yet? I hope so! Even if you aren’t a local, there are a ton of opportunities to be a part of YA Runs a 5K — even if it’s just tweeting about the event! Don’t forget to use the #YARunsa5K hashtag. Hooray for young adult books and getting outside in the fresh air — all in the name of diversity!
Small Damages by Beth Kephart ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 19, 2012
Publisher: Philomel/Penguin Books
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Spain, pregnancy, independence, grief
Format read: Bought.
Summary: Kenzie, a senior in high school, is sent to live in Spain for the duration of her unexpected pregnancy. Angry at her mother, questioning the relationship with her boyfriend, and confiding in her unborn child, Kenzie (reluctantly) works alongside a cook and befriends Esteban, a secretive boy who lives on property with her.
It’s both the best and the worst feeling when you pick up a book you bought years ago, and fall head over heels for it. Say hello to Small Damages – it’s a total beauty.
We have Kenzie, a senior in high school, who has recently lost her father. A new relationship with her best guy friend comes soon after, which leads to this unexpected pregnancy. Her mom’s resolution — pretty immediately — is to send her off to Spain until her delivery, and organize an adoption with a couple out there before Kenzie returns home. She is unhappy to be plucked in her life with Philadelphia, but, moreso, because her mother never stops to ask her what she wants.
My mother’s side is Spanish and I have been dreaming of going to Spain since I was in middle school but nothing has awakened that desire quite like Beth Kephart’s beautiful, lush descriptions from the sidewalks to the land to the smells to the people. I found myself wanting to dive back into the book for the setting as much as for Kenzie and her story. That’s saying something.
Smack dab in the middle of Seville is Estela, the cook Kenzie lives with and assist with her food and her shaky English. (Truthfully, she was the reason I bought the book. My name!) She’s brash and pushy and, at first, it’s tough for Kenzie to get used to that. But it’s good because Estela helps her get out of her own head by giving her something else to focus on — fake parties, amazing sounding food, and her own story. I didn’t know what to expect of this relationship at first, but, as I get further in, their time in the kitchen felt like a unique therapy session for both of them.
This book is so much about grief and trust. Kenzie is struggling to deal with the death of her dad, and how her mom has changed since then. She’s always flashing back to her friends, and her relationship with her boyfriend. What are they up to know? Are they thinking of her? How is she suddenly the girl who does everything wrong when all she used to do was right? She’s grieving the girl she used to be, and, already, the person she will be when she’s back in Philly. Kenzie talks to her child so much. It’s so lovely but it hurts so much too because you know what the plan is, you know what everyone is expecting her to do. This is where the trust comes in. Can she trust that her mom knows what’s best for her? Does she even trust herself?
I can say with confidence that Small Damages is one of the most gorgeous, heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read. I would not hesitate when buying it for the people in my life. The prose is so lovely; it wrapped me up and had me feeling so cozy, so into the story. Sure, it’s a little succinct and not as developed as it could have been but I liked the mystery; I liked how my own imagination was set free. It felt right. And the supporting characters? I adored watching how they slowly became Kenzie’s support system. So much to love, so much to highlight, and a book that I will definitely be rereading in the future.
Add SMALL DAMAGES on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N
Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor [twitter • website]
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: college preparation, Harvard, parent in rehab, cheating
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Juliet’s picture-perfect life goes downhill when her parents split, her dad moves out, her mom tries to pop pills and drink away her depression, and Juliet kisses a guy that’s not her boyfriend. She takes on every responsibility and activity she can to keep herself busy and moving forward, but she begins to realize that perhaps what she’s working so hard for isn’t what she wants.
• • •
Juliet’s perfect life has gone to crap. Her parents have separated, and her dad’s officially moved to the city in his own apartment. Her mom can’t handle the change and Juliet notices she’s drinking more and popping pills frequently. This eventually leads to Juliet finding her on the bathroom floor in a barely conscious state, uncertain if the overdose was intentional or accidental, and left alone to tackle her tumultuous senior year while her mom recovers. While she’s dealing with her grief, her boyfriend is out of the country on vacation with his family. She runs to her best friend’s work where she waits until she’s able to get off work; Juliet gets wrapped up with the new band playing at the country club that night, and one thing leads to another and …she kisses Declan, the sexiest guy in the group.
Very clearly Juliet just doesn’t know how to deal with all of these things piling up in her life; it was quite a lot to handle, especially once school begins and attending Harvard with her boyfriend is her main focus. Her AP classes, extra tutoring, and SAT prep-sessions felt like an insane amount for a girl to handle, but Juliet adds to that by joining a band (without ever really noticing that she could sing before?). I think the key is that she must have been gifted more than 24 hours in a day because I don’t know how she would have balanced it all otherwise. She thinks the kiss (ahem, make-out session) with Declan won’t matter until he enrolls in her school and becomes Public Enemy #1 that she can’t seem to avoid. (Did I mention she joins his band?)
All of last year, I certainly felt like I was fighting to keep my head above the water and Dori’s “Just keep swimming” mantra became my own. But there’s a point where something being plausible begins to feel unrealistic when a certain line is crossed. Perhaps what kept me reading was seeing if Juliet was next in line for an emotional breakdown or panic attack. There were times I wasn’t sure I loved her character — she wasn’t always the nicest, particularly to her father, and the major life realizations she had felt so different from where she was headed that I just wish she would have had more backbone to not follow everyone else’s dreams and to speak up for herself a lot sooner. Juliet tried to live up to crazy high standards, but was critical when people seemed to be functioning at that level (her boyfriend’s mom). The whole cheating topic isn’t really addressed either; things worked out a little too easily for Juliet in this regard and that didn’t really sit well for me.
Better Than Perfect was my first Kantor novel, and I think I would be more inclined to recommend it if the story had felt a little more authentic or tightly pieced together, and possibly if more time had been spent really smoothing out Juliet’s character. It’s so much fun to root for a character going through a bad situation, but when she seems really judgmental and needs a lot of personal growth, it makes her successes a little bittersweet.
Add BETTER THAN PERFECT to Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble
Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 24, 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co./Macmillan
Target audience: Young adult
Format read: ARC from Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: Two high schoolers — connected by the poor decisions of their parents — meet up at CVS and begin a shaky friendship.
I spent a lot of my high school life in CVS. My dad surprised me with my first car there. I fell in love there. (The drama!) I made some incredible friends. It was a home away from home so when I heard there was a little bit of CVS folded into Finding Mr. Brightside — I knew I had to read it.
Abram and Juliette may not actually work at their CVS (their loss) but it is where they cross paths and embark on an unlikely friendship. The kids of parents who had an affair and died together sounds like a page out of a soap opera, I know. But I can assure you that Jay Clark makes it work. Abram and Juliette are individually dealing with the repercussions of their parents’ sins and tragic ends — from the “help” of prescriptions and the way they’ve been forced to, and in some cases chose to, change their lives since everything went down.
Clark possesses this unreal magic: making Abram and Juliette’s complicated situations so… uncomplicated. Alternating between Abram and Juliette’s POVs, we see how each dealt with a death of a parent, how Juliette has no choice but to become the adult in a household where her dad won’t let go of her mom, and how medicine isn’t exactly working for both of them. This works because Finding Mr. Brightside is peppered with quirky dialogue and great little details — Juliette’s love of Starbucks, Abram and his documentaries, and so many of those tiny moments that build up and become part of a couple’s makeup — the inside jokes, the silly exchanges, that intimacy.
Even though Abram is more of the glass half-full type and knows exactly how to push Juliette out of her comfort zone (in a gentle way), Juliette is just as nimble about confronting him about his lack of thought for his future and what he’s given up in the wake of his father’s death. What are the chances the person you needed in your life was also attached to this very bad thing? Slim, I’m sure. But Abram and Juliette fill gaps in each other’s lives that desperately need filling. It never felt forced, or coincidental. FMB is a short book too, and still, the development of past and present is so on point.
So besides being funny and charming, our characters take a trip to the beach and I love this because at first it seems like it’s going to be some kind of “I like you so much” bubble but the real world can’t help but trickle in and both characters are forced to combat some demons: old and new. But there’s something to be said about seeing these two character co-exist in a place where they haven’t been living within the walls they’ve created. Again, it works here because the author shows readers: hey, things might be pretty craptastic right now but we can’t forget the enjoy the beautiful things too like whales and bad karaoke.
I could talk this one up all night, can you tell? Finding Mr. Brightside may have a great romance but it’s so much more than that — two people struggling to identify with their parents and come to terms with the cards life has dealt you (negative and positive). All with a unique sense of Jay Clark humor.
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Estelle and I met at a wedding in Texas. We had this brief serendipitous moment where we connected over books, but that was short lived as we went home at the end of the night. Estelle returned home to New York, married James, and somewhere along the way we connected on Twitter (and then Facebook, I think). That turned into emailing and lots of g-chatting back and forth.
Recently I read Attachments by Rainbow Rowell and I couldn’t stop thinking about how similar Estelle and I were to Beth and Jennifer, and I tossed out the idea to Estelle that we should really dig deep into the beginning of our friendship to see what we could find. Inspired by Beth and Jennifer’s conversations, we’re sharing some of our personal gems from the very first times we chatted and tweeted.
July 11, 2011: (five months after we met) reading goals.
August 24, 2011: book splurges.
August 30, 2011: the very first mention of starting a blog together and considering a partnership. Our blog launched on 11/1/2011 so the idea festered for a little while before we decided to move forward and then we spent a solid month planning and writing before going live.
September 16, 2011: on what we like to read + the library.
<Magan to Estelle> Oh yea, which book blogs do you follow?
I like reading new releases so I can be on the forefront of what’s good. Usually I’m so far out of the loop.
The library is harder to use when you want to read brand new books.
I’m trying to get good at reserving them online and being patient. I’m not a patient person though.
<Estelle to Magan> Ah, I’ve been good with that so far.
We borrow from all the libraries in our county so I haven’t had much trouble.
<M to E> Before we left [on vacation], I had 10 books checked out of the library and I read 7 of them. The other three I didn’t want to read anymore. I read what I’m in the mood for. I can’t just pick up anything at any given moment.
<E to M> I feel the same way.
September 21, 2011: Dustyn, my husband, turns 30, and James hasn’t started law school yet.
<Magan to Estelle> I’m having a bunch of people over tomorrow for a pizza party for him. Haha!
It’s kind of like he’s a little kid.
I’m trying not to make his birthday too big of a deal.
<Estelle to Magan> I like it!
It sounds like something we would do.
<M to E> And we could do it together if James gets into law school here!
(Oh, here i go.)
I could talk to you forever.
<E to M> Hahaha
I hope the movie is good.
<M to E> Talk to you tomorrowwww!
September 22, 2011: the first idea for our blog name.
<Magan to Estelle> I wish I were reading right now. Ha!
I went to the library and got 6 new books, so I’m excited to sit down and start something new.
<Estelle to Magan> I wish I were reading now.
That should be our title.
<M to E> YES!
That would be so appropriate.
<E to M> Or like “I wish I were reading now” with a little ^ in between the last two words and it says “right.” Haha!
<M to E> Oh yeah! Good thinking!
I have GOT to get better about putting books on reserve at the library so they can pull them from other libraries. I went through my goodreads list alphabetically searching for books and I got to letter N before I even found a single one on my list!
I think you and I are a lot alike in many ways – how busy we are is just another similarity. It wears me down, but I still keep putting things on my schedule.
<E to M> I KNOW. OMG
James wants to shoot me.
I always make plans, but in October I made none.
I’m just bummed because I have 2 friends I’ve been trying to see and I haven’t seen them since my wedding.
<M to E> It’s so hard to stay on top of everything, especially relationships and friendships.
<E to M> And I feel like I’m the one who plans all of these things.
And I’m kind of tired of it, ya know?
<M to E> Yes, I know exactly how you feel. I have a lot of friends who wouldn’t be proactive at scheduling together time if I didn’t do it. I know they love me and care about me, but they just aren’t good at it. Sometime last year, I got so tired of trying all the time. I just pulled back. Ironically enough, things finally leveled out a bit with them. With one person in particular that finally did the trick. She finally started saying, “I miss you. I haven’t seen you in forever. We should do xyz.”
I think who we ARE influences WHAT we read.
September 26, 2011: Snippets of our frequent book recommendations on Twitter (back when I didn’t use my @magansays account as much, but also another validation that my work is what brought us together.)
…later that day:
<Magan to Estelle> What’s the hardest part about reading a book for you?
<Estelle to Magan> Starting? When I’m super tired. Haha
<M to E> It’s always starting for me too.
Or ending sometimes if I don’t want the series to be over.
I stretched Harry Potter out for as long as I could.
Like right now, I want to read, but I actually don’t want to start another book. I want to get to the meat of it right away.
<E to M> Yea that happens.
September 30, 2011: stuck on a train + book recommendations.
<Magan to Estelle> Hiya!
<Estelle to Magan> I read another book you should.
Not That Kind of Girl
And I started Lola [and the Boy Next Door] today.
<M to E> Hahaha
I finished The Piper’s Son last night.
Also think you should read that one. It’s by an author I really like – I’ve read 3 of her books recently.
She’s from Australia.
You’re on a ROLL lady!
<E to M> Well I got stuck on the train for 2 plus hours yesterday.
So I finished an entire book.
Oh I’ll add it. What’s the authors name?
<M to E> Woah!
I recommended Jellicoe Road by her to you.
And I read Saving Francesca, but liked Fixing Delilah better – same kind of subject matter.
<E to M> I’ll have to look into them!
<M to E> Yeah, I like her a lot.
Why were you stuck on the train for 2 hours?!
<E to M> There was a huge problem after lightning struck a generator.
<M to E> Wooow.
Never in a million years did I think that I’d meet one of my best friends while photographing a wedding. What are the odds? (Truthfully, most wedding parties sort of loathe the photo-taking portion of the day so I kind of expect them to not remember me.) Before we began Rather Be Reading, Estelle and I had both gone through this whole “I love books again” phase after being burned out in college and we were devouring absolutely everything in our paths. It’s pretty amazing to see and feel that spark and to read about how excited we were, and to know that we’re really proud of that little book addiction becoming this little blog.
I’m really grateful that Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments led us to wade through the past to find these snippets of the beginning of our relationship. (Confession: I used to wonder if Estelle just thought I was so silly; I was, and still continue to be, so impressed by her ability to thoughtfully break a book down into such a meaningful review.)
All that being said, if you haven’t read Attachments, do so now (Goodreads • Barnes & Noble • Amazon) because it’s lovely and inspiring and some of Rainbow’s best work. I’m positive I’ve had a book hangover for weeks after finishing it.
Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson ( web | tweet | facebook )
Publication Date: 3/17/2015
Target audience: New adult
Keywords: Post-graduation, coming out, best friends, road trip, parents
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Last reviewed: Make It Last by Megan Erickson
Summary: Lan and Justin are best friends, bound for the open road post-college graduation. Justin plans to visit his deceased father’s favorite spots, while secretly pining away for out-and-proud, Lan. Telling the truth about who he is threatens his post-graduation plans and his mother’s expectations but how can he continue pretending to be someone he isn’t in a Winnebago for three months?
The catalyst for Justin’s road trip is to fitfully say goodbye to his father — leaving his ashes in the spots he loved to photograph. But in saying goodbye to one part of his life, Justin is forced to say hello to another. How much longer can he contain his feelings for his best friend, Landry? He’s buried them so deep for years, pretending to be into girls, but with three months of summer ahead of them, on the open road, Justin’s not sure he can keep things platonic much longer.
Best friends turned romantic is one of my favorite storylines. Justin and Lan go way, way back, and I love that they are about to embark on life after college and still maintained their friendship (despite some ups and downs, of course). Lan is there for Justin when his father dies; Lan’s parents treat Justin like their own when his own mother is cold and not a Lan fan at all. Lan has tattoos and is openly gay, while Justin is on par to work for his mother’s conservative political campaign once the summer is over. He has an image to uphold, according to his mother. But with the open air, the swirling feelings, and the regret threatening to surface, what’s stopping him except for himself?
Trust the Focus was a lovely combination of Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour and some of my most treasured M/M contemp romances by J.H. Trumble. (If you haven’t read these yet, please do.) Erickson does an effective job of getting into Justin’s head. As much as I was rooting for him to jump to it already, I understand how self-conscious and scared he was. One admission would change the course of his life forever, and nothing was going to guarantee the rest would fall into place. What about Landry’s boyfriend? What was he going to do for a job in the fall? What would his old teammates think? (Another book rec: Out of Pocket by Bill Konigsberg.) It was very astute for Erickson to have Justin and Landry deal with, in addition to everything else, this “betrayal” in their friendship; it was thoughtful and necessary and I was glad that she went there.
As I tend to recommend when it comes to an Erickson romance, please keep ice water handy. Trust the Focus was hot hot hot. The tension was fierce. Plus there’s some blog writing, a great father son relationship, and a few moments where I thought Erickson was going to break my heart into a billion pieces. I just adore her stories. They’re sweet and sexy and fun and honest. Trust my review: check this one out now.
Add TRUST THE FOCUS to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N ($3.99!)